Cervical cancer an avoidable tragedy

Posted March 09, 2010, at 6:28 p.m.

This is my second stab at a column this week. First I wrote a clever little piece about Karl Rove’s new book and what a joke it is that he feels the Democrats shouldn’t have criticized President Bush about Iraq’s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction. He claims Democrats used it as a “poison tipped” dart — or some lame analogy — aimed at the president’s reputation.

Then I went into this adorably flirtatious sarcasm about Rove and I being lousy lovers, because we’d never please each other. He pretends that the protestations of the speaker of the House and her collaborative sheep in wolves’ clothing objected to Bush’s behavior. But for all their howling, they voted time and again to empower him.

I went on to discuss how the Democrats haven’t had the intestinal fortitude to fight for justice since the Watergate hearings, and pleasing me would require indicting Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and the rest of them.

You’ll have to imagine how clever it was though, because I find my heart isn’t in the fight this week. I’m weary of a country tortured with fear of fabricated foes — by appointed presidential advisers who now brazenly make millions off memoirs detailing how they lured us into war — while the alleged opposition party feigned disgust.

How could a gal like me lose that fire in her belly with such rich material to use?

Well, because at the end of the day, I’m just like you. A loved one’s life senselessly endangered can make you forget all the good or bad done by strangers through the course of time. And even though current events insult our intelligence, it’s easy enough to get preoccupied when fear and tragedy knock at a neighbor’s door.

Hard as I’ve tried to set those worries aside and write some pithy remarks that will send the Bush apologists scrambling to this paper’s Web site to hurl inanity my way — which remains a constant source of pleasure to me — I’m going to have to give up that “gotcha” moment this week.

A dear friend of mine got terrible news last week. She had cervical cancer last year, and it’s back. Only now the doctors believe that the only way to save her life is to remove the contents of her lower abdomen. All of her reproductive organs have to go. Her lower intestines and her urinary tract must be removed as well.

She’s 41 years old.

And even with this harrowing procedure — even after the brutal Braveheart William Wallace disemboweling death scene surgery that will be her only chance to live — her odds are only 50-50 that she’ll make it five years.

And as hard as I tried to concentrate this week on the ineptitude and deceit in our current political environment, I just can’t get my mind off this tragedy and the toll it’s taking on her family.

If you’re wondering how this could happen because you’d heard that cervical cancer rates have declined steadily for decades, you’re not alone in your surprise. After all, according to the American Cancer Society, “cervical cancer was once one of the most common causes of cancer death for American women. Then, between 1955 and 1992, the cervical cancer death rate declined by 74 percent.” And the death rates continue declining by 4 percent each and every year after that.

But even with all that success, there will still be nearly 4,000 deaths in 2010 here in the United States because women don’t do what they must do to save themselves: get an annual Pap test. Hard as it is for me to believe, my friend never had a Pap test until she had the unexpected bleeding that led to the discovery of cancer last year.

And as much as I long to save the lives of folks all over this world that die needlessly because of our nation’s politics, you could save a life right now by making an appointment for yourself or someone you love to have a Pap test. If you can’t afford an exam call 1-800-232-4636, log on to www.womenshealth.gov or call your lo-cal family planning office.

In a world of avoidable tragedy, cervical cancer is one of the most avoidable of all.

Pat LaMarche of Yarmouth is the author of “Left Out In America: The State of Homelessness in the United States.” She may be reached at PatLaMarche@hotmail.com.

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